The video above depicts Diane Sawyer of ABC News giving a prominent magazine some really bad media on Thursday’s “World News Tonight”: “This just in: Secretary Clinton has just sent out word that what the magazine Marie Claire said, according to her, what it said she said, is ‘wildly misleading,’ and that’s a quote.”
Talk about an opening for a media critic. Sawyer was referring to an irresistible story that had hit the Internet. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the tale went, was beating former State Department aide Anne-Marie Slaughter over the head with a mallet. Slaughter is the eminence who recently penned a piece in the Atlantic under the title “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” in which she discussed her departure from a “dream job” at State in part because of the demands of raising kids.
“I can’t stand whining,” Clinton allegedly told Marie Claire in reference to Slaughter.
According to State Department spokesman Philippe Reines, Clinton mentioned “whining” not in reference to Slaughter, but in reference to . . . great American literature. Via Reines, this is the relevant segment of the transcript from the conversation between Clinton and Ayelet Waldman, who wrote the Marie Claire piece:
AYELET WALDMAN: My daughter was reading “Catcher in the Rye,” and I said, “Oh, don’t you love that book?” And she said, “What is his problem? He’s unhappy? He should go volunteer.”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good for her. I like your daughter without even meeting her. I mean, I think there’s so much to that, because I mean, God, I can’t stand whining. I can’t stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they are not happy with choices they made. You live in a time when there are endless choices, and you don’t have to have money for them. Money certainly helps. I mean, having that kind of financial privilege goes a long way, but you don’t even have to have money for it. But you have to — even, like, work on yourself, learn to play a sport, do something.
That exchange notwithstanding, the glorious Clinton vs. Slaughter smackdown became a thing out there. Where did the impression come from?
An e-mail, of course. A string of correspondence provided by Reines shows that a publicist for Hearst Magazines sent out a promotional note for Waldman’s gigantic story on Clinton. Here’s a portion of that e-mail:
On Ann-Marie Slaughter’s recent story and whether women really can have it all, Clinton tells Marie Claire: “I can’t stand whining. I can’t stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they’re not happy with the choices they made. You live in a time when there are endless choices.”
According to an e-mail in the chain from Hearst’s Lea Goldman, that note went out to a “handful” of media outlets. Reines protested that it misportrayed Clinton’s comments, and Goldman responded in part:
What you’ve got are some bullet points emailed by our PR team to a handful of media outlets alerting them to the story. Apologies for any misunderstanding — we will correct our pitch and remove that bullet point with the quote in question.
Ayelet has gone to great lengths to articulate and spotlight the Secretary’s advocacy of women’s rights around the world. We think you’ll be pleased with the results.
Reines argued that merely “correcting the pitch” wouldn’t quite stanch the bogus story ready to flood the news stream. Circle back to the outlets the note had originally reached, he urged. He later sent along this note:
What I feared would happen is happening. CNN has an online piece with the headline “Hillary Clinton: Slams Former Staffer ‘Whining,’ Repeats ‘No’ For 2016” — I’ll give you three guesses where they got that crazy idea from, but you’ll only need one. They got it from [the] outlandish bullet point teasers to CNN and who knows how many other media outlets.
It’s unclear just how many news outlets peddled the bad juxtaposition; Reines puts the tally at a “half-dozen.” Twitter, of course, carried the story, which included this bulletin from Slaughter:
Hillary Clinton, for whom I have the greatest admiration and loyalty, was not talking about me when she mentioned whining. #anything4astory— Anne-Marie Slaughter (@SlaughterAM) October 18, 2012
Marie Claire itself issued this statement:
We are thrilled that Secretary of State Clinton was able to reflect on her time in office with us, weighing in on work-life balance, obviously a core issue for many American women—and certainly of avid interest to Marie Claire’s readers. We want to make it clear that Secretary Clinton’s specific comments about “whining” were not in reference to Anne-Marie Slaughter but, as noted in the story, part of a larger conversation about women in the workplace and striking a work-life balance. We value Secretary Clinton’s thoughts and opinions, and look forward to hearing even more from her on the matter.
When asked specifically about the sequence of events, Goldman responded that Marie Claire had indeed gone back to the “few outlets we had pitched to clarify that initial press release. At that point, we felt the matter had been resolved. What’s been lost in the noise concerning press releases is Ayelet’s Waldman’s thoughtful and timely story on Hillary Clinton, a story we stand by.”
Here’s the relevant passage from Waldman’s actual story:
Clinton has very little patience for those whose privilege offers them a myriad of choices but who fail to take advantage of them. “I can’t stand whining,” she says. “I can’t stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they’re not happy with the choices they’ve made. You live in a time when there are endless choices. ... Money certainly helps, and having that kind of financial privilege goes a long way, but you don’t even have to have money for it. But you have to work on yourself ... Do something!”
That’s so less interesting than a secretary of state attacking a former subordinate.
Says Reines: “It’s one thing when a corporation sends out a press release that might not be 100 percent kosher, but it’s another thing when a media outlet does it.”